There are construction sites all over the island but not all of them play fair when it comes to the treatment of workers. *File photo
There are construction sites all over the island but not all of them play fair when it comes to the treatment of workers. *File photo
Bermudians are being held back and underpaid in a construction industry rife with discrimination.

That is the view of union organizer Louis Somner, who says he has never seen the problem so acute in decades of working within construction. Mr. Sumner spoke as the Human Rights Commission (HRC) again appealed for workers to come forward if they believe they have been discriminated against.

The HRC has already begun interviewing complainants as part of its wide-ranging investigation into allegations Bermudians are being denied overtime, promotions and training opportunities. Mr. Sumner, construction division organizer with the Bermuda Industrial Union, told the Bermuda Sun many construction companies bring in ex-pat workers because there is a perception that Bermudians cannot do the job.

He said: "I went to a construction company as a top level mechanic and I spent eight years pushing a broom - just so the company could say it had Bermudians on the staff. I was in that industry for many, many years before joining the union full time and I have never seen it so bad [as it is now]. People are being kept at one pay level. They are being denied promotions, not given training. There is wide-spread systematic discrimination, and it has been getting worse."

Mr. Sumner said many foreign workers arrive on contracts that promise them a set amount of overtime, paid at time-and-a-half. However, Bermudians are often denied overtime, he said. The are also denied their rights to train and progress - companies would rather import more trained workers to fill higher positions.

HRC investigation

The HRC began its investigation into alleged discrimination in December last year.

The organization's chairperson Venous Memari said in a statement yesterday: "We wish to invite anyone who believes that he or she has been discriminated against to contact the Human Rights Commission with a view to providing information to the Commission about your experience. We want to stress that the identity of any person who assists in this investigation will be kept in the strictest confidence.

"I would also point out that any retaliation against a complainant or anyone who assists the Human Rights Commission with an investigation carried out under the Act, is strictly unlawful.

"Anyone who believes that he or she has been discriminated against should call our Lead Investigator, Mrs. Joan Rogers, at the Human Rights Commission, telephone 295-5859, or 538-1562, or visit our office on the 3rd floor of the Mechanics Building, on Church Street, just around the corner from the top of Queen Street."